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World: G-8 Leaders Discuss Soviet Arsenal Cleanup, Africa, Middle East

Kananaskis, Canada; 27 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In a joint effort to stop terrorists from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, leaders of the world's major powers attending the G-8 summit have agreed in principle to fund a $20 billion project to decommission the former Soviet Union's nuclear-, biological-, and chemical-weapons arsenals.

The United States will provide $10 billion over the next decade for the program, with European Union and G-8 partners coming up with the other $10 billion. Western military officials have worried that poor security at Russian atomic sites makes them vulnerable to theft and attacks by terrorists and militant organizations.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, speaking to journalists covering the two-day summit held in the western Canadian resort town of Kananaskis, emphasized the group's united concern regarding terrorism. "The question of arsenals that could fall into the hands of evil-minded states interests all mankind, and the decision [to fund the project] was agreed on by everyone, almost without debate," Berlusconi said.

A stumbling block, however, is Russia's insistence that it be given full control of the program. The other G-8 countries, the U.S., Britain, Italy, Canada, Germany, France, and Japan, are insisting on shared control. The group also agreed on an action plan of further antiterrorism efforts, including measures to promote greater security of land, sea, and air transport.

The G-8 leaders are also turning their attention to Africa and a potential $1 billion assistance program for the world's poorest continent. Today's discussions will focus on securing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and corporate investment to those African countries that pledge to root out corruption and pursue reforms.

Speaking yesterday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised the proposal, which got a jump-start with a G-8 agreement to increase support for the world's poorest countries by $1 billion. "I think what is interesting is a general support for the idea of a framework, a plan for Africa which will include action by the G-8 and African countries on issues to do with conflict resolution, on issues to do with debt and aid, on education and health, on issues of governance, which are extremely important," Blair said.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is attending the G-8 summit together with the presidents of South Africa, Algeria, and Senegal and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, stressed the crucial necessity of outside assistance for his struggling continent. "There's need for renewal. There's need for revival. There's need for a buoyancy that will lead Africa out of the morass, and put Africa in the mainstream," Obasanjo said.

Yesterday, the group took the long-awaited step of recognizing Russia as a full member of the group, and announced that Russia will host a G-8 summit in 2006. Leaders also discussed the crisis in the Middle East, with many leaders echoing U.S. President George W. Bush's frustration with the situation but stopping short of supporting Bush's call for the ouster of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The current WorldCom corporate-accounting scandal, which sent global financial markets tumbling this week with the announcement the company had falsely inflated its cash flow by nearly $4 billion, was also discussed.

Tight security and the secluded gathering point for this year's G-8 has kept the event free from the violent antiglobalization protests that have marked such gatherings in recent years. Demonstrations were held in two Canadian cities -- Calgary, about 135 kilometers east of the meeting venue, and Ottawa, some 3,200 kilometers farther away -- but were largely peaceful.